[an error occurred while processing this directive] Oriental Institute | Pioneers to the Past | Major Bowman's House, Baghdad, Mesopotamia
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Major Bowman's House, Baghdad, Mesopotamia

April 25, 1920

My dear, dear Frances —

No letters here on my arrival from Mosul, as I had hoped! What would I not give to see my little family this beautiful Sunday morning! Instead, only duty and much of it! Things are happening fast. I wonder how they will all have turned out by the time you are reading this. I dined with General Hambro at the Commander-in-Chief’s house Friday, the day of our arrival. The Chief was away, but two naval officers, sent up from their ship to plan navigation equipment for the Tigris and Euphrates were there. Things are going badly with our tank-steamer passages. A notoriously nasty official of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the kind of nasty Briton that his fellow Britons dislike as much as we do, is blocking our reservations. Meantime General Hambro showed me at his office yesterday some sketches of wall paintings just discovered by the British officer at Salihiyah, in course of digging trenches. The Civil Commissioner proposes that I go out to examine them for him, and bring back full records before the paintings suffer damage. Now Salihiyah is far up the Euphrates, something over 180 miles, possibly 200 miles. That is to say it is so far that it is half way to Aleppo! This brought up the question of the feasibility of going on to Aleppo. You can find these places in my large atlas (Andrae). The British Political Officer or governor in this Euphrates region is a well-known explorer and student of the Arabs who has been among them for years, named Leachman, Colonel Leachman. His name is on the most recent maps of north Arabia more than once. He will receive me at some point part way up toward Salihiyah, and let me know the feasibility of continuing on to Aleppo. The trouble is that for such a trip is the tail of my kite is somewhat long! I asked to have Luckenbill go with me to Salihiyah and the Civil Commissioner consented. If we should go on to Aleppo we should have to wait two days at Salihiyah until the boys could be brought up to overtake us there.

The combination of events which may make the trans-desert trip (through the Syrian desert) at all possible, is interesting. Salihiyah is right out in the fighting, — the extreme outpost of the British occupation on the Upper Euphrates. When I proposed a trip up the Euphrates to the military men, they did not want to send me even as far as Anah which is far below Salihiyah. The discovery of the wall paintings, about which, probably, I shall know nothing whatever, has induced the authorities to consent to send me there. My arrival there, so it seems, happens to coincide with very important negotiations between the British and the Arabs regarding the Anglo-Arab boundary on that river. You may have seen in the papers that the Arabs had seized Der-ez-Zor, the uppermost British post on the Euphrates. The Civil Commissioner revealed to me how that came about. The British Government, (what is commonly called H.M.G. — His Majesty’s Government — out here) in council with Arab representatives in Europe, agreed to give up Der ez-Zor into the custody of the new Arab State, — but H.M.G. quite forgot to notify their own authorities in Mesopotamia of the change! The Arabs instructed their people to go and take Der ez-Zor, and the British officials there, not knowing of the new arrangements, resisted and were captured and imprisoned by the Arabs! Imagine the feelings of the Civil Commissioner here at bungling like this by H.M.G., — bungling which brought on serious trouble with the Arabs. I take it you understand that the Civil Commissioner is practically king of all this immense region on the Tigris and Euphrates — from the mouth of the Persian Gulf to the northern mountains above Mosul on the Tigris and formerly to Der ez-Zor on the Upper Euphrates. As soon as the military frontiers advanced through this region northward from the Persian Gulf, the country was transferred as fast as proved practicable to civil authority, under a British Governor called the Civil Commissioner. It is his local representatives, called “Political Officers”, whom we have been meeting in our various excursions to the different ruins. The Civil Commissioner at present is a young Colonel A. T. Wilson, a man of unusual ability and strength.

After explaining the Der ez-Dor incident, the Civil Commissioner added: “I may as well tell you in strict confidence the exact situation on the Euphrates, and explain why it will not be possible for you to go to Persia before your trip to Salihiyah. No one but the Commander-in-Chief, not even General Hambro, knows that I am about to evacuate Salihiyah, and even Anah, and turn them over to the Arabs. These places are both so far away, that it is better to hand them back to the Arabs. Malul Pasha, the Arab governor of Der ez-Zor, will be holding a conference with Colonel Leachman while you are in Salihiyah, to arrange this transfer. The Arabs will be on their good behavior. If Leachman suggests that they show their good will by furnishing safe conduct to an American party as far as Aleppo, it is highly probable that Malul will cordially agree to do so. There is some risk, but it is a very favorable opportunity. Only you must not delay until you return from Persia. If this plan appeals to you, it will be necessary to cut out your Persian trip. In any case you must not mention to anyone the coming evacuation of Salihiyah”!

We then arranged a meeting for this morning at 9:30, for most of the British officers in the Near East work on Sunday as on other days. I was very busy all day yesterday after this interview making contingent preparations, and there was great excitement in the rank and file when they were told of the possibility of our going back to the Mediterranean overland! Before I left I asked the Civil Commissioner to inquire of Leachman by wire as to the probabilities regarding our dash for Aleppo, and get me an answer if he could by this morning. I then had a long interview with General Hambro about transport, and it was very awkward, not explaining to him why the overland trip to Aleppo might be feasible! At the same time, General Hambro explained that he had commandeered passage home for us by way of Bombay, which was all he had directly under his control. The British officers in Basrah who had told me he had full control of the oil tankers were entirely mistaken. He agreed however to use all his influence with the tank steamer people, but he could not lay commands on them. He showed me his file of telegrams, verifying the reservation of passages for us via Bombay to Egypt.

Yesterday afternoon I moved over from the hostel at the Officer’s Club to Major Bowman’s house. He and is wife gave me a very kindly and hospitable welcome and took me for a delightful drive around the city along the top of the dyke which protects it from inundation during high water. We stopped at the tennis club and had cool ginger beer and enjoyed the wonderful roses and hollyhocks. Such hollyhocks for stateliness, and splendor of coloring I have never seen before. The roses too reminded me of California. After dinner, which by the way was much better than at the hotel, Major Bowman asked me if I would like to have my field-bed carried up to the roof of the house. So Abbas carried it up. When bed-time came, I found my bed high on the roof, on a corner overhanging the river. A quarter moon was reflected in the swift current and gave a mild and pleasant light which made the whole broad river quite visible for a long way up and down. I crept under my namusiyah and lay for a long while looking at the stars, and the flickering moonlight touching the fast moving stream at innumerable points, while the murmur and wash of the current made quiet music to lull one to sleep. Major and Mrs. Bowman were at the opposite end of the roof, and this morning as I was awakened by the doves fluttering about the roof, and lay watching the gulls floating like flecks of foam on the rapid river, the Major came over in his pyjamas and brought me a cup of tea. It was only six o’clock and we lay there quite sociably sipping tea, and having a very pleasant morning tea-party on the roof for half an hour.

The major and his wife went off to church before breakfast and left the native servants to serve me an excellent breakfast, while an automobile waited below to take me at nine to my appointment with the Civil Commissioner. I had a most satisfactory interview with him, lasting an hour and a half, and laid the foundation for future operations here, which will be of the greatest value. I cannot attempt to outline the conversation, but I might mention that he would be glad to see us apply for Nimrud and complete the clearance and investigation of the place. I ought to say also that he had brought in all his files of letters and papers pertaining to the antiquities, and showed me without reserve all the important letters which have passed between him and His Majesty’s Government on the subject, especially the delicate question of excavations recently carried on out here by the British Museum and not approved by His Majesty’s Government! All this occupied nearly an hour and a half of a very busy man’s time. Then I asked him what he had received, if anything, from Colonel Leachman. He pulled out a telegram and read: “Highly probable can arrange for Breasted party go to Aleppo. Suppose you want me to arrange for arabanahs (wagons). Think they will want two”. I urged the Civil Commissioner to ask for three, and he consented. He said to take advantage of the opportunity we must leave next Wednesday. That is April 28. I told him it would make much confusion for us to find after we reached Salihiyah (that is Luckenbill and I), that the way was open to Aleppo; for we should then be obliged to wait there three days for the boys to come up from Baghdad and overtake us, besides leaving a number of important matters for them to settle here, which I really should attend to myself. He told me therefore to take the three boys along and both the servants. I think that means we are bound for Syria next Wednesday.

You have an advantage of me as you read this letter; for you will have had, before you read it, a cablegram announcing one of two things: either our departure from Basrah by steamer involving a long hot voyage on the Indian Ocean and an exhausting stay at Bombay without hotel accommodations; or our arrival at Aleppo or Beyrut. For I will cable you in either case. As regards the Syrian desert I would not write at all about it until the journey should be over, but the long interval before you receive my letters makes it possible to do so, for you will have certainty before you when you read this and you need not be troubled by the apprehensions which beset me as I write and which, in view of the circumstances, I need not conceal. I have thought the matter over well. It is a grave responsibility to take four men beside myself across four hundred miles of war zone, three fourths of which or nearly so are beset by treacherous Arabs. It is likewise to be carefully considered whether a man with a family waiting for him at home ought to undertake such a journey. In this connection I have been greatly relieved to receive Ginn & Company’s annual statement. Isn’t it a relief! Moreover the new form of Outlines of European History I, which is to be called (absurdly enough!), History of Europe, and which is now being printed (the one I had so much trouble about), will increase this return. And you notice how well the new small history has done,—the one I refused to abridge further. In any case I have no anxiety regarding the financial resources of my family for twenty years to come. I hope you have ceased to worry about expenses. We ought now, to begin to save a little each year. It is pretty late in life for a man like me to begin on this line, but we really ought to do it. So practice every economy you can without wearing yourself out, and do not worry about money in the least.

For the full story of my exciting trip you should come to the special exhibit “Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920,” at the Oriental Institute!

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